It’s that time of the year where Christmas Songs come flying at you from left, right and centre. Prog Rock collective Shits n’ Giggles have announced the release of their charity Christmas E.P. ‘Wake Up’ which will be online for purchase this evening.
Here’s the press release:
“With Christmas fast approaching, a bunch of us have teamed up to concoct a festive song entitled ‘Wake Up’ which was released as part of an EP on December 1st. Wake Up features Colin Tench (Corvus Stone), Gareth Cole (Mike Kershaw, Tom Slatter), Ben Bell (Patchwork Cacophony, Gandalf’s Fist), Stefan Hepe (Gandalf’s Fist), Peter Falconer, Pat Sanders and Manu Michael (Drifting Sun). The song was mixed and mastered by Jon Huxtable at Smallfish Studios, Scotland. Also included in the EP are 7 songs previously recorded by the musicians who contributed to the making of ‘Wake Up’.
All the profits from the sales will go to TIERHILFE SAUERLAND E. V. Barbara Hellekes, CEO of the animal welfare organisation said “We’re over the moon about this! Winter is coming, and it’s really hard to get the poor souls through the winter, especially in Hungary and Greece, where we support and help privately organised shelters in keeping the streets free of stray dogs, trying to find them a forever home”
We, Shits ‘n Giggles, take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken up their valuable time to bring their contribution to this EP to help make this release possible, and we hope that the charity organization we have chosen will benefit greatly from the generosity of the people who donate to their cause, cheers everyone and Merry Christmas to all!”
I suppose you could call it being a music nerd but I am sure many of my fellow music fans also have this innate ability, identifying musicians by their signature sound and, for the purposes of this review, it is particularly applicable to guitar players.
Be it the great blues players like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy or, latterly, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa, the stellar guitarists of rock music, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townsend and Yngwie Malmsteen or progressive rock’s great exponents along the lines of DavidGilmour, Steve Howe, JohnPetrucci, Alex Lifeson, Steve Hackett and the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, they all brought a unique guitar sound to the music, one that most aficionados could instantly recognise.
This would add something different to the music, something to make it stand out from the sea of music that lapped around our metaphorical ankles and give you a reason to listen to, and purchase, it ahead of anything else. It also made it feel more personal, less generic, and gave you, the listener, a particular attachment to, and fondness for, that music.
Well, I’d like to add one more fantastic guitar player to that list, the incomparable Italian maestro MarcoRagni who also happens to have just released his latest solo album ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’.
Marco has been making music since the age of 17 when, in 1987, he released ‘Kaleido’ but it was his last album, ‘Mother From The Sun’ (released in 2014), that introduced me to this seminal guitar player. Influences including pysychedelic, folk, funk and pop abound throughout his singular brand of progressive rock and his playing is absolutely exemplary.
He says of his new album:
“I play and write songs to free myself from the constraints of life and to emphasize all the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve never done caged by drawings and I never wanted to replicate a sound or feel. I’ve always tried to rework all my putting influences what I have in my head, not as a musician, but as a person. I always imagined me like a volcano full of a thousand artistic references ready to erupts new reworking songs that I have heard, mostly using my sensitivity. I hope you can hear a “Marco Ragni” sound and not something that looks like a nostalgic operation.”
‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ is an ambitious work, in the name of prog-rock dropped from atmospheres and canonical issues, characterized instead by a crossroads influences ranging from psychedelia to the new international rock, through to Marco’s beloved Pink Floyd.
For ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’, Marco Ragni has brought together a band of illustrious collaborators including Durga McBroom (backing vocalist for PinkFloyd and David Gilmour since 1987).
Guitarists Peter Matuchniak (who plays a lot of the lead parts), Fernando Perdomo and Colin Tench, bassists Jeff Mack and Hamlet‘Transport Aerian’, drummer Jacopo Ghirardini and keyboard player Vance Gloster all add their considerable talents to this remarkable piece of work, backing up Marco and his multi-instrumental skills on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, lap steel guitars, greek bouzuki and, of course, vocals.
The first thing that struck me about the album was the striking cover. Now those of you who have followed my writing over the last 3 or 4 years will know that album art is something that I really appreciate and can almost make or break a release for me. The cover to ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ does everything right, simple yet compelling, it draws your eyes to the artwork like every great cover should. Now, onto the music….
Between Moon and Earth opens with a 60’s feel NASA voice over before a psychedelic off centre guitar note, courtesy of Colin Tench, starts the track proper. Insistent drums and bass add a slightly disconcerting note before the guitars play against each other with a slightly alien feel, it’s stylish and intriguing and that almost corrosive guitar that meanders though your mind is quite addictive. Quite a thought provoking instrumental start to the album. One of the two extended ‘epics’ on this release, Horizons begins with a delicate introduction that seems to tingle across all your synapses before opening up into a proper 70’s feeling progressive track with its complicated music and eerie flute like sound. It then picks up pace and turns into something that Public Service Broadcasting would have been proud to release. A distinctive sci-fi note runs though the music before the keyboards, drum and bass go all funky on you backing a slightly distanced voice over. It never gives you chance to settle and leaves you feeling as if your in the middle of an episode of Space:1999 with its retro feel. Marco is an expert at using music as a storytelling medium and he does it again here as his vocals open up, laid back and full of character. The music takes on a slightly medieval edge with the sound of a harpsichord and you just go along with the very impressive flow as it explores different avenues. A slightly disconcerting guitar solo adds an abrasive note but takes nothing away from the narrative. It’s a track that becomes quite obsessive as you follow its ever impressive journey through darkness and light, the elegant piano section preceding a guitar solo of incredible depth and scope and where the Hammond organ is given free rein to provide an admirable backdrop, music that just keeps on giving. A persistent piano note and flamenco guitar open title track Land Of Blue Echoes with a grave and serious tone which continues with the vocals, Marco delivering the words in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Another spiky guitar run adds more feeling of discord that contrasts against the lighter Spanish influenced guitar to leave you feeling slightly disorientated, if only in a good way.
Who said Pink Floyd? Money Doesn’t Think begins with a stylish bass, drum and keyboard rhythm over which Fernando Perdomo’s guitar overlays a seriously impressive auditory exhibition. The vocals add a touch of gravitas with their earnest intonation but it is the rather catchy music that stands out here, the guitar playing just blows you away with its power, skill and dexterity and are backed up to the hilt by the notable rhythm section. This is one of those songs where you keep finding yourself pressing repeat. That medieval feel, with touch of eastern promise, returns on Canto D’Amore, Marco delivers a delightful vocal and bouzuki performance and the harmonised sections send shivers down your spine with their eclesiastical feel. A pared back innovative delight of a song that just cleanses your palate mid way through this intense album. Deep Night is a fantastic song whichever way you look at it but the addition of Durga McBroom’s distinctive and haunting vocals is the true highlight. A track that will leave you rapt, almost in limbo, as you let its many charms wash over you. She has a voice that expands to fill any room she may be occupying and, as well as being dynamic and potent, there is a subtlety to it as well. The music plays an admirable second fiddle here but is no less dramatic or imposing as the compelling guitar adds the finishing touches to a near perfect piece of musical theatre.
Beltane, to me, seems to be a song of two parts. The opening part is all complex and convoluted progressive rock where the gentle acoustic guitar, drums and casual bass leave you in some sort of fantasy world where Marco is the tour guide and his languid vocals just wash over you leaving you feeling slightly becalmed. The Hammond organ in the background gives an insistent edge that seems to be trying to wake you from your musical stupor. There’s a guitar part that seems slightly out of phase and focus, leaving you feeling a little spaced-out, fazed and nonplussed. Then, after a little calming interlude, it brings itself sharply back into focus as the guitar drives the song forward in a more traditional fashion, aided and abetted by the elegant rhythm section. The first couple of times you just don’t ‘get’ it but then it all falls into place with a knowing nod from the music. Intelligent and thought provoking music that requires some work from the listener too. Now onto the second, and longest, ‘epic’ on the album. Nucleus Parts 1-8 really does deserve that title, not only for its length (coming in at just under 23 minutes) but, also, for its inventive and involving composition. It even feels like an epic as it begins, a searching guitar fading in and laying the foundations, backed by the bass, an ominous undertone. Then a fiery guitar breaks from the fold demanding your attention as it drives the song on with a reverberating and chiming tone. Then, calmness, Durga’s distinctive vocal warblings, earnest and sincere and yet with a mournful edge to them, hold you spellbound as the musical convolutions conspire in the background. It is hypnotic and almost surreal, like the musical equivalent of a Hunter S.Thompson novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in The Land of Blue Echoes’ perhaps? The guitar then breaks free to deliver a fast flowing section of intricate brilliance that precedes Marco’s grave and determined vocals, backed by the haunting tones of Durga. These vocal interludes are punctuated by flashes of six string brilliance that just blow you away. A seamless move into a period of calm reflection then follows, gentle guitar, expressive bass and smooth drums hold in a their reflective embrace, Marco and Durga’s vocals, serene and tranquil, have a hypnotic grace and you relax and let the music flow over you. An embellished, slightly tortuous guitar then takes over, searching and asking questions of you before Durga’s vocal wanderings invite you on a journey of discovery. I said before that Marco was a musical storyteller and he reaches a pinnacle on this elaborately momentous, ambitious and complex musical tapestry. You can just lose yourself in the soundscape and enjoy every nuance and minutae of its melodic charm as each individual section delivers its singular tuneful aesthetics. This remarkable musical odyssey comes to a close with the blues-tinged Queen of Blue Fires, a wistful and nostalgic track enhanced by the addition of Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’ on bass guitar. It begins with slightly somber feel to the music and vocals, almost like an emotional lament. The guitar then fills you with a feeling of hope as it seems to lift the cloud from over everything. Perhaps the end of one thing that should be mourned but also the beginning of something new that needs to be celebrated. Heartfelt and profoundly sincere, it seems to resonate with your very core and invites you on this new and uplifting journey where we can look at things that have passed with fond affection rather than a sense of grief. The Hammond solo is a thing of genius that just makes me smile and tip my metaphorical hat in acknowledgement and it is matched in sincerity and intensity by the burning guitar solo. A fitting end to a magical musical excursion.
Marco says that this is an international album and it should appeal to all nations with its intense brilliance. A deeply moving listen which shows Marco Ragni at the height of his power, it left me feeling free and unencumbered by the worries of life. This is not mere music, it is a life changing experience and is surely one of the highlights of 2016 so far from a musician who just gets better and better with every release and one who is backed by a stellar group of contemporaries.
Released 18th March 2016 on Melodic Revolution Records.
So I’ve let the lunatics take over the asylum for the last few reviews (I jest, they are all going to be worthy additions to the website) but it’s time I stopped shirking and took the Captain’s chair back…..
“There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” – Oscar Levant.
After listening to the latest release from multi-national conglomerate Corvus Stone, I wouldn’t be surprised is that was the band’s mantra!
This is music that makes you smile, yes you could say they have poked too many badgers with sharp sticks but, I appreciate the sheer unbridled joy that is at the heart of their flippant and humorous output.
That’s not to say that they do not produce some excellent music, these guys are all great musicians at heart but they don’t take themselves too seriously. The band understand that a touch of madness can make something much more rich and varied.
A bit of background from the band’s website…….
“A band comprised of individuals, all with their own unique styles and approaches. You want predictability & an obvious theme on an album, you will not find it here (Or will you?). If you enjoyed radio stations like the ones that existed in the good old days (anything and everything), you will enjoy what you find here! They really do mix it up.
If you want to like what you hear in the first 30 seconds, again… look elsewhere but if you want music to grow on you as you get to know it, Corvus Stone’s music does exactly that. There is melodic content 100% of the time in everything they do. Sometimes there is singing, sometimes not.“
The so called ‘hardcore’ members of the band are Colin Tench (guitars), Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström (bass), Pasi Koivu (keyboards) and Robert Wolff (drums and percussion) but they add a stellar list of guest vocalists to the mix including Sean Filkins, Blake Carpenter and Phil Naro, just to name a few.
These guys never planned to form a band when they met on the internet. Recordings were made for fun and it became obvious to them that this was different and had all the magic and surprise that rarely comes from a plan. Corvus Stone step in and out of “prog” within the space of one song!
After releasing two albums, one in 2012 and the second in 2014, this year sees them release ‘Unscrewed’. An album released as a free “Thank You” for fans and on sale to everybody else.
It started life as a combination of unplugged new music and remixed old music but it has become something much bigger. A full blown album in fact!
The opening track, Brand New Day, is one of the new compositions and is a full blown rock instrumental and fairly conventional, well for Corvus Stone anyway! Powerful rock guitar riffage and thumping bass steer the ship while Robert’s stellar drumming plays the anchoring role (see what I did there?). Uplifting keyboards add a really smooth gloss on things and it is a nice way to start the album. Early Morning Calls started it’s life as purely an instrumental on Corvus Stone II (as ‘Early Morning Call’), this modified version features both Sean Filkins and Phil Naro’s vocal talents, Phil adding ‘multi harmonies, doo wops and Di di di dum dums (yeah, me neither!). It almost sounds like a Beach Boys or Beatles track that’s had too many magic mushrooms, Colin also adding new and significant guitar work to the track. It is brilliantly nuts, keeps me smiling from ear to ear and really seems to sum up what this band are all about. A lot of the sense of humour is present in the track titles, take Joukahainen Without Chips for instance, bloody mental isn’t it? A new track that majors on organ and guitar, it is like and incessant earworm. It opens positively majestic in stature like the title character, a character from an epic Finnish poem but soon ebbs and flows between also being a lovely little unplugged delight. What drumming does feature is delivered by collaborator Paul Marshall.
Just a limited amount of re-recording was deemed necessary for old favourite Horizon, a short but brilliantly bonkers instrumental that has my imagination working overtime and brings images of clowns at a fairground playing this song with a maniacal glee. See what I mean, it’s nuts! The keyboard goes off with a mind of its own, Colin’s guitar has slapstick written over it and the drums and bass bound along just having fun. You just can’t beat it! Landfill is one of the latest musical creations and, once more, features Paul Marshall. Laid back, carefree and playful, it has something of a medieval tone and is quite processional. A song that is, in the main, unplugged but with some well placed percussion where it will make the most impact. A tongue-in-cheek nod to MontyPython to my ears. An extensive remix for After Solstice has also seen changes in the drums. A track with delicate sensibilities and some intricate guitar playing and one that seemingly always verges on teetering over the edge into delirium. Once the blue touch paper is lit, there is no getting off as it heads off at break neck speed with dizzying keyboards and manic drumming, a song that stares at the abyss and laughs it off as inconsequential.
Another ‘lick of paint’ is all that JussiPussi required and there is a full on ‘box of frogs’ type of lunacy going on here. Darting and grabbing, you literally could be in a musical version of a Circus’ House of Fun. Off kilter and chaotic, it leaves you utterly wired. Scary Movie Too is a complete belt and braces, double in length reboot of Scary Movie from the first album. The band see it as a sort of ‘live’ version of the original track. Creepy and mysterious it almost crawls across your skin at the beginning in a Hammer House of Horrors fashion. Disturbing, it keeps you on edge as the musicians deliver a suspenseful tale through the ever expressive music. Crashing riffs and thunderous drumming make you almost jump out of your seat. Distorted squeals and sinister keyboards just add to the deliciously oppressive feel, I am just waiting for Vincent Price to come round the corner (if you’re under 35, you may need to look him up or ‘Google’ him, as the youth of today would say). Petrified in the Cinema Basement is a total reworking of the track Cinema and has a real Mariachi note to it as it bounds along at a jaunty pace, its metaphorical cap doffed to all and sundry. All knowing guitar and seventies sci-fi sound effects with a clear, starlit sky above.
Petri ‘Lemmy’ Lindström
Double the length, as Blake Carpenter had always wished it to be, Lost and Found Revisited has gained a lot of new vocals, a second drummer and a lead break. Bringing some semblance of normality to the party with it’s military style drums and tasteful vocals, it is thoughtful, meaningful and quite evocative. Colin’s guitar seems to verge on a Mike Oldfield impression without giving it the full ‘Tubular Bells’ and it is probably the only song that actually leaves you in a calm state of mind. Tighter and more dynamic than the original alternate version of Cinema that was a bonus track on the debut album, Cinema Finale is, in my opinion, the best track on the album. Methodical, deliberate and precise, it is sombre, sensible and resolute. Colin really lets loose with some superbly intense guitar playing that really seems to be telling a story, the polished delivery of the keyboards adds gravitas and the uncompromising rhythm section adds real substance and sensibility. Jazzy, laid back and ever so slightly stoned, Pack Up Your Truffles brings some of the playfulness back. Another great addition to the new tracks on display, you are left in such a laid back state that you could almost be horizontal and in a world of polo necks and bad haircuts. Returning us back to the crazy world of Corvus Stone (liberties taken, I know) Moustaches in Massachusetts is a helter-skelter ride through the mind of an insane musical genius. Included as a bonus track because it is essentially unchanged, apart from a remix, it needs to be played loud because, at some point, you will realise that you are just as mad as what you have been listening to!
This album is flawed in places but entirely and eccentrically wonderful. Corvus Stone follow no path already trodden. Mad bad and brilliantly dangerous, whether you’ll come out the other side with all your mental faculties is another matter entirely.